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Friday Genius Ten “Bend That Gender” Edition

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, April 24, 2009 15:45 EDT
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I don’t know if you guys follow Bitch Blog’s weekly mix tape feature, but today’s really cuts close to an obsession of mine—cover songs. They specifically tackle gender-bending cover songs, like the White Stripes doing “Jolene”, and it’s a lot of fun. But dude! They skipped three of the more awesome ones ever.

Perhaps the best gender-bending cover of all time is the Raincoats doing “Lola”. It’s gender-bending on several levels. First of all, it’s an all-female feminist group covering a Kinks song, but wait, it’s a Kinks song honoring the awesomeness of a transwoman that introduces the narrator to the ways of love. It even has a line that gleefully celebrates gender-bending:

Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
Its a mixed up muddled up shook up world
Except for Lola

So the Genius ten is based on that, with a couple more gender-bending covers of sheer awesomeness below the fold.

Original song: “Lola” by the Raincoats

1) “Credit In The Straight World”—Young Marble Giants
2) “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”—The Slits
3) “Ex Lion Tamer”—Wire
4) “I Found That Essense Rare”—Gang of Four
5) “Out In The Streets”—The Shangri-Las
6) “White Mice”—The Mo-dettes
7) “Catering”—Public Image Ltd.
8) “The Deed”—Electrelane
9) “Son Of A Gun”—The Vaselines
10) “Capricornations”—Mika Miko

Okay, I promised a couple of awesome gender-bending covers below the fold, so here goes. I suppose it’s almost too obvious to pick Patti Smith’s version of “Gloria”. But it’s just such am amazingly layered cover—a total re-imagining, really.

To modern ears, this sounds like a lesbian re-imagining of the song, and really it probably did in the 70s. I think that Patti Smith has resisted that, feeling more that she was singing in the character of a straight man. Smith identified more with men than women, because in the 70s, the musicians who were channeling the raw sexual energy that she wanted to project were pretty much all male. But she’s selling herself short, I think. Her female fans over the years have identified with her as a woman, and view this song as a woman rebelling against the lie that women don’t also have that raw, rebellious sexual desire that men often try to claim as their own.

Another, more recent one is Grizzly Bear’s cover of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll link to Ann’s post she wrote about the song after seeing Grizzly Bear live at SXSW. Unfortunately, about a minute is cut off from this version, but it’s the best recording:

I differ with Ann on Hole’s cover of this same song, which was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, in response to their concern for their friend Little Eva, who wouldn’t leave an abusive relationship, because she saw the beatings as a form of love. I think Hole and Grizzly Bear’s covers are informed by the understanding that Goffin and King were being ironic when they wrote this song, and it was Phil Spector who ruined everything by forcing the Crystals to sing it against their will (as punishment for their rebellion against him over who would be the lead singer on certain songs—as you can see, the story gets insanely complicated quickly). If his version, force on the unwilling Crystals, sounds like a celebration of domestic violence, well, consider the source. We are talking about a man who picked some woman up, brought her home, and shot her in the face. We are talking about a man who held his wife prisoner in their home for years, and would show her a coffin to remind her that he felt he had the right to dispose of her. Of course he wanted to believe all this meant he was just a very passionate man, and that a good woman would eat this shit up.

But I digress. The song is a giant closet to pack all sorts of interpretation in, depending on who does it and how it’s arranged, as this Grizzly Bear cover shows.

What’s your favorite gender-bending covers?

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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